The main purpose of the Master’s or MBA resume or CV is to give graduate school admissions officers an informative, but concise outline of your academic, professional and personal achievements. It shows not only which aspects of your background you want to emphasize as relevant to your MBA or Master’s studies, but also how you factor them in for your career development.
In Part I, we discussed that the CV/resume is often the first part of an MBA application package that admissions officers browse through and the closer it is to an executive resume, the better it will demonstrate your potential for management studies and career.
A resume is an informative summary of your abilities, education, and experience. It serves to highlight your strongest assets and skills, thus helping you stand out from other candidates seeking admission. Master’s and MBA CV/resumes are different from resumes designed to secure new employment, but the end goal is still the same: you want to show that you have what it takes (skills, qualifications, accomplishments) to succeed in a particular position (in this case, a place in a program).
Your resume will probably get less than a minute of the admissions committee’s time. You may ask, then, why bother? The answer is simple. You won’t get a second chance to make a good first impression.
So, what should you avoid at all cost if you want to increase your chances of admission?
Avoid crafting a CV/resume that is over-long
Less is more. This saying, first popularized by German-American architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, applies not only to buildings, but also to Master’s and MBA resumes. The rule of thumb here is that if you can say something in two ways, choose the one with the fewest words. Applicants are well advised to stick to a one-page resume. A shorter CV will not only spare admissions staff valuable time, but also demonstrate your ability to prioritize accomplishments and omit irrelevant information.
Attempts to cram as much information as possible risk ‘diluting’ your resume, making it less focused and pithy. Resumes should indeed highlight one’s major academic and professional experiences and accomplishments, but they need to highlight the ones most relevant to your intended field of study. Unless the program of your choice specifically asks you to list your entire educational and professional history in great detail, focus your resume on the subject at hand.
Don’t use a one-size-fits-all resume
Structure is very important for the graduate school resume. It should have a header with your name and contact info; a picture (if required); clear sections with headings; descriptions (usually as bullet points); and page numbers if the document is longer than one page. However, this does not mean that applicants can submit the same resume to all their target programs.
Before writing each resume, Master’s and MBA aspirants should check the specific requirements of each school or program. Admissions officers are unlikely to appreciate a resume that doesn’t adhere to explicitly defined rules.
For instance, Saïd Business School (UK), the business school of the University of Oxford, requires applicants to detail their relevant professional experience in a 1-page CV. The template offers very useful tips, such as: “Please use 3-4 bullets maximum to describe your job function & responsibilities,” and “Make sure your work experience comes to life, consider what someone reading your CV would be most interested in.”
Don’t wait until the last minute
Applicants should be aware that the CV/resume is a vital part of their application package, and as such it cannot, and should not, be completed in haste at the last possible minute. All facts and figures in the CV/resume should vouch for the data that you provide in your application form, essays, and that your recommenders mention in their letters of reference. Hence the resume requires a lot of thinking and fine-tuning to the overall application package.
Resist over-adorning your resume
MBA and Master’s applicants are advised to resist the urge to get overly creative in crafting their resumes. This is a professional document, and as such shouldn’t be too fancy. It can be customized but only according to the model rules of professionalism. Typical fonts for a resume are Times New Roman, Verdana, Cambria and Arial. Colors should be black and white. Clip art, emojis, or intricate borders are best excluded.
Also, embellishing your resume by using jargon is a bad idea. Sometimes aspirants use technical terms from their industry. Whereas in a job resume this may be acceptable, in your application essay it is not. Admissions officers may not understand your industry jargon.
Never make things up
It is understandable that candidates are eager to make a good impression on admissions officers, but they should under no circumstances invent things. Do not try to eliminate gaps in your employment history, misstate your responsibility level, or inflate your grades. Admissions’ committees do background checks and if they find inconsistencies, your application will be scrapped and blacklisted. Another reason to avoid false claims such as “great negotiation skills” in the resume is that they will be tested during the interview.
Make sure you edit and proofread
As already mentioned, the resume is your first impression. It shouldn’t be sloppy. Your resume may reflect a stellar career and outstanding accomplishments, but if it is crafted with little care and attention, it risks failing to pass through an admissions officer’s initial screening process. If you are not confident in your proofreading skills, ask an experienced friend or colleague to take a look. You may even send the resume to a professional proofreading agency.
Even though the resume is a minor part of your application, it shouldn’t be underestimated. Take it as seriously as you would your admissions’ tests and interviews. Only when you have paid attention to the tiniest details in your application can you say that you have done everything in your power to gain admission to your dream Master’s or MBA program.